March 3, 2006

NYPD ordered to let officers show work records to Port Authority

By SAMUEL MAULL Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK -- A Manhattan judge has ordered New York Police Department officials to let investigators from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey see the personnel files of officers who are trying to get higher-paying jobs on the Port Authority police force.

State Supreme Court Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam said Friday that NYPD officers could see their own personnel files and Port Authority police officials could review those files along with the officers at NYPD headquarters in Manhattan.

Abdus-Salaam issued a similar temporary order on Feb. 9. Friday's ruling would make the order permanent unless it is overturned by a higher court.

City lawyers acknowledged that until June 2003 the NYPD let other law enforcement agencies review the officers' files if the agencies were considering them for jobs.

They said the NYPD changed the policy and now provides only an "abstract," a kind of summary which the Port Authority has said was insufficient. The NYPD's commissioner, the city's lawyers said, should be allowed to implement any policy he thinks is appropriate.

Abdus-Salaam said NYPD officials "have not offered any rational basis for applying their policy even under circumstances where the policy effectively prevents NYPD officers from seeking other more gainful employment."

The judge said the police officers would likely be able to show that the policy, as currently applied, is "arbitrary and capricious" and therefore improper. She said they have also shown they are likely to suffer irreparable harm.

The judge ruled in favor of 35 NYPD officers who complained that they passed a written test for Port Authority jobs but were being dropped from consideration because the NYPD would not let Port Authority investigators review their files.

The petition names 35 officers, but their lawyer, Richard L. Steer, said about 150 had applied to go to the Port Authority. He said they passed the 2002 written test and were chosen to undergo the rest of the selection process.

Port Authority police officials had said they would not hire the officers unless they could review their personnel files, including disciplinary records, Steer said.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, issued a statement in which he accused the NYPD of a "blatant attempt" to try to keep his union members from jobs where they will earn $30,000 more a year.

"This decision, which is rooted firmly in law and common sense, should send a message to the NYPD that this is a bad policy that they should rescind immediately and permanently abandon for the future," Lynch said.

Cindy Switzer, the city's lawyer in this case, issued a statement saying, "We are disappointed with the judge's ruling. The Police Department's policy of declining to provide broad access to officer personnel files, including confidential investigatory files, mirrors the common practice of many U.S. employers today, in great part due to widespread litigation.

"We strongly believe the Police Department's policy is appropriate, and we intend to appeal the court's ruling," Switzer said.